Ignatius, who gathered the Society of Jesus' nine original companions, was the Jesuits' first vocation director, in a sense. Those in the position today work to open lines of communication with men wanting to explore—discern—their potential vocation as Jesuits.

First Contact

How do men discover today's Society of Jesus?

If you gathered a group of Jesuit vocation directors and asked them for the strangest way a man has discovered the Jesuits, there's one story that would probably take home the blue ribbon. Br. Charlie Jackson, SJ, vocation director for the California Province tells of a man who was driving through Los Gatos in 1959–August 14 to be exact–when he saw a sign that read "Novitiate."

"Deciding that a novitiate must be something like a monastery, he drove up the hill and asked to see the 'monastery.' That day was entrance day—novices were entering—but someone was found to show the man around and answer some of his questions," relates Jackson.

"Following his brief tour, he climbed the hill behind the novitiate and sat on the baseball field for three hours-thinking. He then came down the hill and asked to enter. Three weeks later he did so," says Jackson, adding that the man is a wonderful Jesuit.

"I suppose that it goes without saying that such stories couldn't happen today—our application process today is far more daunting—but grace still happens," Jackson adds.

So how do men make their first contacts with the Jesuits these days? According to Jesuit vocation directors in the United States and Canada, most often it's through personal contact or the web.

Fr. Marvin Kitten, SJ, vocation director for the New Orleans Province, reports that about 70 percent of his initial vocation inquiries come from the province web site (www.norprov.org/vocations). Kitten's counterpart in the Upper Canada Province, Fr. Len Altilia, SJ, has had similarly good results from the web, especially important for the Society in Canada because it doesn't have as many high schools and colleges as the Jesuits in the United States have, so educational institutions are just not a major source of "first" contact there. Altilia receives almost 100 percent of initial inquiries through the web.

The role that the web plays in vocations will most likely increase. Joe Laramie, SJ, recently wrote a master's thesis for a media and technology program at Saint Louis University, "Using the Net to Catch New Fishermen: Building a Spiritual Community in a Jesuit Vocation Listserv." The paper examined the New Orleans Province's vocation e-group, supervised by Kitten, that lets men e-mail each other and discuss vocation, discernment, and Catholic issues. Laramie concluded that the e-mail group "was a helpful tool in Jesuit recruitment in building community through shared ideas and experiences."

One of many

The Jesuits aren't the only order that's web-savvy, according to Christopher Krall, who joined the Wisconsin Province this year. The calling to religious life that he felt led him to the internet for much of his research on orders, including the Augustinians, Dominicans, Cistercians, and Jesuits. Krall's next step was visiting some of the orders' houses and attending retreats for discerners.

"Fr. Sazama [Wisconsin Province's vocation director] and the Jesuits became the most appealing, the least pushy, the most supportive, and it became quite clear that the Jesuits were the way to go. I then attended a Jesuit university [Boston College] and became very connected," he explains.

Personal touch

But the initial contacts are not all high-tech; personal relationships with Jesuits also attract many men to the Society. Oregon Province's vocation director Fr. Steve Lantry, SJ, says the majority of men who enter his province have had a previous connection with Jesuits, usually through schools or parishes. " I think what inspires men the most is the combination of dedication and joy evidenced in individual Jesuit lives; Jesuit relationships in community are a very important influence as well, but the demeanor and attitude demonstrated by the individual Jesuit play the biggest role."

Brian Rademacher, another of this year's Wisconsin Province novices, is a case in point. He first met Jesuits when he attended Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois, and then met more during his years at Marquette University.

"While at Loyola and in college at Marquette I was always amazed at the depth of their spirituality and the passion they put not only into their work for the poor and the students but also into celebrating the Eucharist," he says. Sam Wilson, a New Orleans Province novice (above), was more than impressed with the Jesuit novices he met who were involved in ministry "experiments" at the L'Arche Community where he was working.

"Each of the novices I knew and worked with showed himself to be compassionate, down to earth, and full of zeal for living the Gospel," he says.

Pro-active

Even though the majority of initial inquiries to the New Orleans province are made via the web, Kitten finds that active vocation ministry in the schools also pays off. While only three of his province's eleven new novices have a Jesuit school background, all three come from one place, Strake Jesuit College Prep in Houston, where Fr. Mark Thibodeaux, SJ, has offered men vocation guidance. Kitten says "discernment" retreats are also key; last year 68 men took part in two fall retreats held at the novitiate in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.

A good book

Sometimes that "first" contact is a bit more passive in nature; two cases involved the printed page and inquiring minds.

Chicago Province novice Christopher Musiet first learned about the Jesuits during a European history class and another on the Jesuit Relations, reports that Jesuit missionaries in Canada and the United States sent back to Europe.

"While studying for both of these classes I was attracted to the Jesuits' camaraderie, sense of purpose, courage, and compassion," he explains. This led to him to further research on the web, where he found the Chicago Province web site with vocation director Fr. Dave Godleski's contact information.

The Society's reputation attracted one other inquiring mind, but the story has a twist. Fr. Christopher Pinné, SJ, Missouri Province's vocation director, says that one of his novices learned about the Society through friends who attended a Jesuit high school. He started doing research and came across an anti-Jesuit book that bashed the Society. "He thought any religious order that is getting this author that upset must be doing something right. Then he contacted me!" says Pinné.

No matter how a man makes his "first contact" with the Society, the relationship the Jesuits foster with him are key to transforming curiosity into vocation. Novice Richard Beebe says he can't pinpoint when he first became aware of the Jesuits. "They are such an integral part of cultural and social references, especially in movies and literature, that I seem to have always known of the Jesuits."

But Beebe is clear about why he was drawn to the Society: their spirituality, breadth of ministries, focus on social justice, diversity, and their constant desire to discern how best to serve God and what more can be done. "They struck me as being on fire for what they were doing, and yet at the same time they had a spiritual calmness that I found irresistible." *


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